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Bach's Message

Bach's "message"

Continue of discussion from: Translations of Bach's Vocal Works - Discussions Part 4 [General Topics]

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 22, 2007):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< I believe that translations of the text of Bach Cantatas help expanding the Bach message around the world. Understating the text makes Bach's vocal music more approachable and deepens our understating of it. So far the BCW presents translations into languages as: Chinese, Dutch, English, French, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. Catalan translations would be presented soon. >
It is very good to hear that we have members from Iran on the list. I am not always sure what exactly "expanding the Bach message" means, esp. when it comes to the texts rather than an emphasis on the music. It is music where persons of many beliefs and cultures can indeed find much beauty. The words however are specific to one particular belief system and one particular culture and one particular language.

There are of course many of us who are not of that belief system, that culture or that language.

So the music is what matters to some of us while to others Bach seems to be part of a belief system. Like I had no idea it was Ash Wednesday until it was mentioned on this list.

In the USA that has not become a national holiday happily.

BTW I have been noticing in random use how much more accurate in the Harnoncourt-Leonhardt cantata set the French translations are on the whole than the English ones.

My soul doth zomify the Lord,

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (February 22, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< It is very good to hear that we have members from Iran on the list. I am not always sure what exactly "expanding the Bach message" means, esp. when it comes to the texts rather than an emphasis on the music. It is music where persons of many beliefs and cultures can indeed find much beauty. The words however are specific to one particular belief system and one particular culture and one particular language. >
So are the words of, for example, the Qur'an. And I am not of that belief system, but does that mean I don't find any good in the words of the Qur'an? Not at all! I find much good in it and have read it at least twice in its entirety.

< There are of course many of us who are not of that belief system, that culture or that language. So the music is what matters to some of us while to others Bach seems to be part of a belief system. >
So I guess what I am saying is that it isn't so simple. There are non-Christians out there who can find much good in the Bible, and therefore in the words of Bach's cantatas, without necessarily becoming Christians (much as the Christians might hope that someday they might, just as no doubt my Muslim friends hope that someday I will become a Muslim).

< Like I had no idea it was Ash Wednesday until it was mentioned on this list. >
I had nearly forgotten myself, and I go to a Lutheran church!

< In the USA that has not become a national holiday happily. >
Especially for those of us who celebrate no holidays at all ;;)

< My soul doth zomify the Lord, >
And my spirit doth not worry, but beeth happy with God my Salvificator ;;)

Neil Halliday wrote (February 22, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< "I am not always sure what exactly "expanding the Bach message" means, esp. when it comes to the texts rather than an emphasis on the music."<
To the extent that the texts of the cantatas refer to universal human experiences such as love, hate, fear, confidence, anger, joy, grief, ambivalence, doubt, enthusiasm, vulnerability, etc., they are at the very minimum useful in illuminating/understanding the music. One need not believe in Christian dogma in order to experience both an increase in the music's impact that may come from understanding the text, as well as the relevance of many aspects of the texts to one's own life experiences: "O Eternity, you thunder-word, O sword, that through the soul pierces" (BWV 20 and BWV 60).

Of course, one could simply `la-la-la' the vocal parts in Bach's great music and still be swept away, but the addition of words that deal with life's great challenges obviously has the potential to markedly increase the music's already considerable impact.

That's what I think Bach's "message" is: the composition of music of universal attractiveness set to words dealing with the great questions and experiences of life.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 22, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Of course, one could simply `la-la-la' the vocal parts in Bach's great music and still be swept away, but the addition of words that deal with life's great challenges obviously has the potential to markedly increase the music's already considerable impact.
That's what I think Bach's "message" is: the composition of music of universal attractiveness set to words dealing with the great questions and experiences of life. >
Nicely stated. I was about to use 'Love thy neighbor' as an example of a more trivial question (or experience), but then I remembered some of my neighbors.

Shabtai Atlow wrote (February 22, 2007):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< So I guess what I am saying is that it isn't so simple. There are non-Christians out there who can find much good in the Bible, and therefore in the words of Bach's cantatas, without necessarily becoming Christians (much as the Christians might hope that someday they might, just as no doubt my Muslim friends hope that someday I will become a Muslim). >
For the record, I am certainly a non-Christian who finds much good in the Bible. I also do not meant the same thing as Christians do when they say the Bible. I also read (frequently), from [what I mean by the] Bible in its original Hebrew and Aramaic.

Since we are supposed to be discussin Bach, however, I will tell a personal story about a Bach cantata, and myself. One day during the week of the discussion of BWV 3, I was having a particularly horrible day. And I started to hum "Wenn Sorgen auf mich Dringen" - and I had not even noticed the words. The music itself was having a calming effect on me. Then I popped the CD into the player, and started to listen to "Wenn Sorgen auf mich Dringen" (much calmer by now). Then I realized what the words are - no wonder this music had such an effect on me.

I can guarantee you that I have never, in my life: "Zu meinem Jesu singen", and I don't subscribe to: "Mein Kreuz hilft Jesus tragen" either. At most 'auf mein Gott Ich will singen', and so forth.

BUT, and, here is what I see as the crux (no crux - Kreuz pun intended) - the "Bach message" is very much in the synthesis which Bach puts in to getting the music and the words to convey the same message. I choose [substitute "I" to the listener of your choice] to take from Bach's message what I want.

Just my $0.02 (about 0.10 Shekel). And now, back to work.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 22, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< That's what I think Bach's "message" is: the composition of music of universal attractiveness set to words dealing with the great questions and experiences of life. >
Well put!

It has always seemed to me that Bach penetrated beyond the turgid dogma of C17/18 Lutheranism to reveal fundamental aspect os the human condition. I further believe that those who dismiss the texts on the grounds of faith seem to be missing this essential idea.

But Neil has expressed this extremely well and I agree with him 100%.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 22, 2007):
Bach's "message"

Julian Mincham wrote:
<< That's what I think Bach's "message" is: the composition of music of universal attractiveness set to words dealing with the great questions and experiences of life. >>
< Well put!
It has always seemed to me that Bach penetrated beyond the turgid dogma of C17/18 Lutheranism to reveal fundamental aspect os the human condition. I further believe that those who dismiss the texts on the grounds of faith seem to be missing this essential idea. >
I think there are two points worth suggesting:

1) Ba's music exists in a historical context and we can discuss his theological system as a historical phenomenon without subscribing to it. I recently watched a very interesting documentary on the pyramids. It was only when the theology of the ancient Egyptians was outlined did the architecture make intellectual sense. I think we have the same situation for Bach.

2) For lack of a better word, Bach's music has a "profundity" that draws us again and again into ever-deepening insights. Some may say this is "spiritual". I prefer to think of Bach as my best friend. His music has been a constant in my life and he has never failed me in moments of joy and sorrow. He has been present at every significant event in my life and I am sure that he will there at my funeral.

Peter Smaill wrote (February 22, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] Julian Mincham and Doug Cowling have well stated the ability of Bach's Cantatas to be at the same time, and of the highest musical order, a historical statement of religion and culture in eighteenth century, and a universal reflection on the spiritual dimension of the human condition, as well as evoking for many of us a strong personal response.

We are not the first to observe the capacity of Bach to form part of a syncretic world-view. Percy Dearmer and Vaughan Williams, in the English Hymnal (No. 329), set out a post-communion hymn. The text is from the Syriac Liturgy of Malabar.

Thus in an English Hymnal we have the Arabic words of the Indian offshoot of the Syrian branch of the Church following the tradition of James, translated into English and set to the Bach Chorale harmonisation of the German language, "Ach Gott und Herr". Indeed , this title was used for the book in some territories : "Strengthen for Service, Lord".

It is nonetheless a majestic and appropriate adaptation of words and music and in keeping with the complexity and diversity of Bach's own sources.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 22, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I prefer to think of Bach as my best friend. His music has been a constant in my life and he has never failed me in moments of joy and sorrow. He has been present at every significant event in my life and I am sure that he will there at my funeral. >
Doug it's been a while since we fundamentally agreed on something.

And even here it's only partial. I want Alfred Deller singing the Agnus dei from BmMass (BWV 232) at my funeral--but I think that for you this would be a counter tenor too far??

Julian Mincham wrote (February 22, 2007):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Julian Mincham and Doug Cowling have well stated the ability of Bach's Cantatas to be at the same time, and of the highest musical order, a historical statement of religion and culture in eighteenth century, and a universal
reflection on the spiritual dimension of the human condition, as well as evoking for many of us a strong personal response. >
Peter just to give full credit it was Neil who made the point first

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 22, 2007):
< And even here it's only partial. I want Alfred Deller singing the Agnus dei from BmMass at my funeral--but I think that for you this would be a counter tenor too far?? >
A couple of years ago, when having some dental work done, I took along the booklet of that wonderful Deller CD -- something to read and relax with. It did help.

Stephen Benson wrote (February 22, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] Last month I spent an hour in the dentist's chair with my iPod, a playlist of Bach cantata highlights, and nitrous oxide -- a highly unusual encounter with Bach, to say the least, but it almost makes me want to go back to the dentist!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 22, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< 1) Bach's music exists in a historical context and we can discuss his theological system as a historical phenomenon without subscribing to it. I recently watched a very interesting documentary on the pyramids. It was only when the theology of the ancient Egyptians was outlined did the architecture make intellectual sense. I think we have the same situation for Bach. >
Bach's music and the text which Bach set in his Sacred works are not necessarily the same thing. It seems to me that Aryeh stated that understanding the words by having translations can help to spread the message of Bach.

The message of the words is not only of a very specific time and place but in various places is very derogatory to all other groups of persons about whom Bach and his world seemed to be aware.

Now here is the difference with Egyptian, Sumerian, Hittite, Elamite or any other ancient civilization whose art and whose culture one might take an interest in.

Nobody today cares about the deeper theological implications of what the art of any of the above groups has to say.

We still live in a world where the very specifics of Bach's religious message are derogatory and odious on occasion to others. And not all of the cantatas but rather a minority are magical music to my ears.

It would be absurd to believe that the specifics of the text have spiritual meaning for those who do not share that religious belief system.

OTOH many not of that system rejoice and exult in some of the vocal music.

This is not a problem with the non-vocal music.

Now I can fully enjoy Bellini's Norma without caring about either Druidic or Roman religion. With Bach's texts that is not the same bc. the world still is deeply troubled by some of those matters. Entering counter-tenors into this discussion only dilutes the issue. I too enjoy Deller's CD but that does not require any religious agreement with anything stated therein.

Santu de Silva wrote (February 23, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>> That's what I think Bach's "message" is: the composition of music ofuniversal attractiveness set to words dealing with the great questions and experiences of life. <<<
Julian Mincham responded:
>> Well put! <<
Douglas Cowling remarked:
< 1) Bach's music exists in a historical context and we can discuss his theological system as a historical phenomenon without subscribing to it. I recently watched a very interesting documentary on the pyramids. [It was] Only when the theology of the ancient Egyptians was outlined did the architecture make intellectual sense. I think we have the same situation for Bach.
2) For lack of a better word, Bach's music has a "profundity" that draws us again and again into ever-deepening insights. Some may say this is "spiritual". >
Interestingly enough, John Eliot Gardiner says that Bach's music is about nature, or the universe. It is understandable to equate the universe with God (I say, knowing full well that this would upset some people...), in which case, it also makes sense to think of Bach as someone who gazes at the universe by your side, as it were.

(Gardiner also said that Mozart's music was --to him, anyway-- about being human, and Beethoven's music about being Beethoven. One must not ordinarily put too much weight on such pithy little remarks, but I think there's a lot of truth to it. Perhaps Gardiner was quoting some great Brit musician, or is this one of his own gags?)

Richard Mix wrote (February 23, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
>...Nobody today cares about the deeper theological implications of what the art of any of the above groups [Egyptian, Sumerian, Hittite, Elamite] has to say. <
Maybe you havn't met as many egyptologists as I have! Do I believe in worshipping the gods of Egypt? As Twain said of infant baptism, "Believe in it? I've seen it with my own two eyes!"

>...It would be absurd to believe that the specifics of the text have spiritual meaning for those who do not share that religious belief system. <
Of course one can distinguish empathy and inner conviction. The purpose of the translation project is to lead people to JSB, not Salomo Franck. One can hear bits of an arabic Da Ponte cycle on the web; if I told a newcomer that the Figaro finale was about Gilgamesh or the Holy Trinity I would feel guilty of a disservice.

Btw, I'm told I make a terrifyingly convincing Sarastro, but there is a small part of my being that remembers it's only a job.

> Now I can fully enjoy Bellini's Norma without caring about either Druidic or Roman religion. <
Yes, but fully??? ;-) (and of course one does care about them for the purposes of the plot)

Richard Mix, enjoying the interview with Bresson appended to the DVD of Au hasard Bathazar. He's just now defined his metier as "L'art de la chose en place" and told the JSB anecdote on playing the organ.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 23, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
>"It seems to me that Aryeh stated that understanding the words by having translations can help to spread the message of Bach."<
To the extent that the words increase the appreciation of the music, this is obviously true. That Bach believed he was helping to increase spirituality/awareness of "good" and "evil" among his listeners, using music (with words) as the medium, is obvious.

>"The message of the words is not only of a very specific time and place but in various places is very derogatory to all other groups of persons about whom Bach and his world seemed to be aware".<
and
>"It would be absurd to believe that the specifics of the text have spiritual meaning for those who do not share that religious belief system."<
I think the problems expressed here flow from an overly literalist attitude towards Bach's, and possibly religious texts in general (a characteristic, BTW, of religious fundalmentalists?)

Several of the list's members have commented on the timelessness and universality of many of the text's themes, and indeed on the moving (spiritual?) quality of some of the text, regardless of one's personal beliefs.

Regarding unpalatable "specifics": for non-believers, or those with opposing belief systems, I suggest considering that any unpalatable "specifics" of Bach's texts ought to be regarded as referring to the ongoing (eternal?) struggle between `good' and `evil', however one wants to define these concepts - and to listen to Bach's text's in this light, since this is what Bach himself ultimately believed. I presume we all accept the reality of some concept of 'right' and 'wrong'? (Believers, offcourse, have no such problems directly accessing the meaning of the texts).

Neil Halliday.

PS, I have never understood the controversy over the SJP's text, in relation to Bach's music. There were pro- and anti- 'Christian' Jews present at the crucifixion, therefore it's patently ridiculous for St. John or anyone else to blame "the Jews". Bach was obviously just following the text, as he did with the SMP.

Alain Bruguieres wrote (February 23, 2007):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Your post prompts me to react... I will intersperse my comments/questions in your text.

Yoel L. Arbeitman wrote:
< Bach's music and the text which Bach set in his Sacred works are not necessarily the same thing. It seems to me that Aryeh stated that understanding the words by having translations can help to spread the message of Bach. >
I agree with you that the sentence '...can help spread the message of Bach' suggests some form of proselytism to which I do not adhere - by the way I'm not sure Aryeh really meant that.

I don't think Bach was trying to convince his audience in any way; they were Lutherans all right, and I very much doubt Bach's top priority was to make his fellow leipzigers better lutheran. I rather think his top priority was to write good, new music. His texts do contain a message, and it was part of Bach's rôle to convey this message, which he did - not without adding a personal touch and more than a touch, in many instances. If we are to appreciate Bach's contribution, we should concentrate not on the text's initial message (which in any case can often be interpreted in many ways) but on Bach's personal touch and interpretation of the text. This is how I understand the phrase 'Bach's message'...

< The message of the words ... Bach's message' is not the text; it is the resultant of a complex interaction between the text and the music ... is not only of a very specific time and place but in various places is very derogatory to all other groups of persons about whom Bach and his world seemed to be aware. >
What would those other groups be? Turks? Popes? Jews? Apart from one cantata text explicitly mentioning Türks and Popery as major threats, I don't see what those 'various places' you mention may be. Considering the fact that Bach composed a little less than 300 years ago, I find his librettos remarkably politically correct, on the whole. They talk mostly about what's going on inside oneself, rather than what other people may think or do.

< We still live in a world where the very specifics of Bach's religious message are derogatory and odious on occasion to others. >
I understand that there is something about the religious aspects of Bach's cantatas which you consider derogatory and odious. Still, I fail to understand in what way this something can be ascribed to Bach himself, rather than christianity or lutheranism as a whole. Besides, there are many people on this planet and probably on this list who consider themselves neither lutherans nor christians; apparently they do not all share your appreciation . So while I can only accept your statement regarding your personal perception of things, I'm not convinced that your point of view represents that of all other non-18th-lutherans in the world.

< And not all of the cantatas but rather a minority are magical music to my ears. >
Are you talking about the music or the message here? Is the music spoiled by the message for you, or is it just not magical from a purely musical point of view?

< It would be absurd to believe that the specifics of the text have spiritual meaning for those who do not share that religious belief system. >
It is not absurd to assume that one person from one particular religion may derive spiritual meaning from the 'message' of one other person from one other religion. Thank God, this does happen. Whether this can happen with Bach's cantatas is another question, but if some people say that they experience it, one can only accept it (whether one finds it rejoicing or not).

< With Bach's texts that is not the same bc. the world still is deeply troubled by some of those matters. >
There is that. But Bach can hardly be blamed for what happened after 1750.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 23, 2007):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
< So while I can only accept your statement regarding your personal perception of things, I'm not convinced that your point of view represents that of all other non-18th-lutherans in the world. >
It certainly does NOT represent mine, for one.

 

Santu de Silva wrote (March 8, 2007):
Each of us should ask ourselves:

"What is my message?"

Do I have a message? Sure; I have different messages for different audiences and people; I'm not a one-message-dude. I don't know whether thinking of Bach as a person with A MESSAGE is to raise or to lower his importance and his value to us and the world.

Does Bach's message exist only within the constraints of Bach's religious belief, within the framework of Lutheranism (or Evangelicalism--wasn't there an attempt, or at least an expressed preference by Luther, to keep Luther's name out of the description of the denomination?), or does it have a more transcendent existence?

I think the majority of the members of the list would resist any attempt by a minority who would like to appropriate the Cantatas for the exclusive enjoyment of those who (A) are 'believers' in Bach's particular belief system, or (B) are considering conversion!! This is simply the practical reality: Nobody owns Bach's music, and nobody owns his 'message', whatever it is. Does any country 'own' the oxygen above its borders?

I saw this subject line in my mailbox, and got sufficiently annoyed to want to respond to it; please ignore if the subject has been disposed of to the satisfaction of everyone.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 9, 2007):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< I saw this subject line in my mailbox, and got sufficiently annoyed to want to respond to it; please ignore if thesubject has been disposed of to the satisfaction of everyone. >
A subject disposed of to the satisfaction of everyone? How probable is that? The smallest non-zero number imaginable.

Fortunately , I note the quotation marks on 'message'. Leaving some wiggle room as to whether Bach's message is strictly Lutheran, or whether he was implying some wider spiritual significance with his music.

Regardless, it is not possible to grasp the full significance of the music of the cantatas without knowing the texts, and I think that was the point of the original post. To understand is to enjoy the music more, not necessarily to believe, or even to be convinced of Bach's belief.

I am satisfied. I expect many others are not.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (March 9, 2007):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< Each of us should ask ourselves:
"What is my message?"
Do I have a message? Sure; I have different messages for different audiences and people; I'm not a one-message-dude. I don't know whether thinking of Bach as a person with A MESSAGE is to raise or to lower his importance and his value to us and the world.
Does Bach's message exist only within the constraints of Bach's religious belief, within the framework of Lutheranism (or Evangelicalism--wasn't there an attempt, or at least an expressed preference by Luther, to keep Luther's name out of the description of the denomination?), or does it have a more transcendent existence?
I think the majority of the members of the list would resist any attempt by a minority who would like to appropriate the Cantatas for the exclusive enjoyment of those who (A) are 'believers' in Bach's particular belief system, or (B) are considering conversion!! This is simply the practical reality: Nobody owns Bach's music, and nobody owns his 'message', whatever it is. Does any country 'own' the oxygen above its borders? >
And Ed added:
< Regardless, it is not possible to grasp the full significance of the music of the cantatas without knowing the texts, and I think that was the point of the original post. To understand is to enjoy the music more, not necessarily to believe, or even to be convinced of Bach's belief. >
Let me thank Arch for an eloquent statement which totally resonates with me, and as well thank Ed for what I consider an entirely compatible and significant addition.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 9, 2007):
Yes, Bach's music had a message

Johann Sebastian Bach was an orthodox Lutheran believer, a devout man who was a full participant in the rites and ceremonies and sacraments of the Lutheran Church in Leipzig in the 17th century. A man who took special care to advance his own knowledge of this faith and expressed through life life and work his commitment to this historic faith, even opposing trends in his own day to move away from it. The scholarship is out there and easily available to make these points absolutely clear to any interested in pursuing it. It's no secret nor any mystery.

Why must we have this continuing debate over whether or not Bach was a devout Lutheran Christian? If you do not like the message his music was communicating, then do what many do, just ignore the words. But that the man meant what the words said, and believed them, and specifically intended and designed his music to support and advance these words and the orthodox Lutheran faith is simply a fact. J.S. Bach was a Christian. Get over it.

Do you have to be an orthodox Lutheran believer like Bach was to enjoy his music? Of course not. Nobody has ever said that. Many love and enjoy Bach's music and find transcendence and meaning in it apart from the Christian faith. That's true too. Does an understanding of what Bach's faith was help better understand and appreciate his music? It certainly does. Why does Bach compose the way he does? Why is the music this way and that way and what is the point of the way he emphasizes things or brings things out in his music? Because of the words he was composing for. Did Bach's music have a message? Of course it did. Just read the Cantata texts. That's the message. There is no "well it says this, but obviously Bach really meant only to refer to a symbolic struggle of good and evil." That's simply silly.

Can one completely appreciate and enjoy Bach's music as he intended it if one does not share his faith? I say, no. You may choose to disagree. I suppose it is like the debates over original instruments and "historical informed performances."

The ongoing efforts on the part of some few on this list to paint Bach as a cynical skeptic, a hypocrite, or a man just collecting his pay check, just "tolerating" the beliefs of the day, is an imposition of a modern and post-modern worldview on Bach that simply did not exist for him. Attempting to do so in order to avoid the meaning of his message is understandable. Such hostility has always greeted the message of sin and salvation that Christian brings. But for the purpose of this list, it is simply counter-productive.

Ignore, or disagree with the Christianity that Bach's Church cantatas were intended to advance if you wish, but all the predictable and tiresome ongoing efforts to deny, denigrate, disparage and otherwise avoid it seem to me at least to be entirely absurd and utterly pointless.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 9, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< Ignore, or disagree with the Christianity that Bach's Church cantatas were intended to advance if you wish, but all the predictable and tiresome ongoing efforts to deny, denigrate, disparage and otherwise avoid it seem to me at least to be entirely absurd and utterly pointless. >
I hope that it is possible to disagree with you without being labelled with some silly word that you used in the past, a type of posting that does not reflect well on you or your belief system. Bach, he composed Die Kunst der Fuga and Musikalisches Opfer, two works that speak the same genius as even the greatest of his works with Christian texts. And of course he also composed secular vocal works. But let me stick with KdF and MO, those are works of universal genius that having nothing to do with whether or not he believed in this faith or that faith. The list goes on of course.

Given his time and place, I have no doubt that he was a Christian believer but that says nothing about whether his fans need share that belief system or whether they should share a geocentric universe or a flat world. All of these were universal beliefs of Christendom either slightly before, during or after Bach's time. Which of them Bach believed in, I am not sure but probably whichever was prevalent at his time and place.

Mr. McCain, like anyone else you will be respected as you respect others.

Also nobody can speak about the overwhelming part of the membership as the posters (as on any list) are a very small group. I again pretty much accept that Bach's religious beliefs corresponded to his time and place although we cannot be sure.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 9, 2007):
Yoel, my post was, and is, referring to the Chuch Cantatas of J.S. Bach. Perhaps you might consider actually reading carefully before responding?

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 10, 2007):
I put this in the trash and let it go. Along comes 'I was referring to the Church Cantatas of J. S. Bach.' I see no such qualification.; here we go again, as someone recently said.

Paul T. McCain wrote:
< Johann Sebastian Bach was an orthodox Lutheran believer, a devout man who was a full participant in the rites and ceremonies and sacraments of the Lutheran Church in Leipzig in the 17th century. >
We are circling around the 18th century, now having hit 19th and 17th. Not the best way to establish credibility.

< A man who took special care to advance his own knowledge of this faith and expressed through life life and work his commitment to this historic faith, even opposing trends in his own day to move away from it. The scholarship is out there and easily available to make these points absolutely clear to any interested in pursuing it. It's no secret nor any mystery. >
It is both a secret and a mystery. The scholarship, as summarized, referenced, and most importantly made readable by Gaines (Evening in the Palaof Reason) suggests that Bach's faith was very personal, and that conventional (social) Lutheran faith was in a state of flux.

< Why must we have this continuing debate over whether or not Bach was a devout Lutheran Christian? If you do not like the message his music >
First generic reference to music, not Church Cantatas

< was communicating, then do what many do, just ignore the words.But that the man meant what the words said, and believed them, and specifically intended and designed his music to support and advance these words and the orthodox Lutheran faith is simply a fact. J.S. Bach was a Christian. >
I suppose you could say that the general language here is intended to reference Church Cantatas. If so, you really ought to state it clearly .

< Get over it. >
No, Dude. You get over it. Either talk to us, or shut up. BTW, where are those offered credentials regarding the Bach's theology in the 19th , no the 17th Centuries. Still waiting.

< Do you have to be an orthodox Lutheran believer like Bach was to enjoy his music? >
I can accept orthodox RCatholic, because they have an established hierarchy. As I understand orthodox Lutheran, it was a reaction to some of the absurdities of orthodox RC. This starts to get tricky if you want to define Christian. Not to mention Bach's evident interest in keeping feelers of employment out to all camps. Christian, for sure. Orthodox Lutheran? What is that, exactly?

< Of course not. Nobody has ever said that >
A few sentences further on, you say exactly that.

< Many love and enjoy Bach's music and find transcendence and meaning in it apart from the Christian faith. That's true too. Does an understanding of what Bach's faith was help better understand and appreciate his music? >
Once again, no specific reference to Church Cantatas. Bach's music. Including all the orchestral, solo string, and keyboard works.

< It certainly does. Why does Bach compose the way he does? Why is the music this way and that way and what is the point of the way he emphasizes things or brings things out in his music? Because of the words he was composing for. >

No reference at all to the secular cantatas?
< Did Bach's music have a message? Of course it did. Just read the Cantata texts. That's the message. There is no "well it says this, but obviously Bach really meant only to refer to a symbolic struggle of good and evil." That's simply silly. >
Indeed. That's why no one has said it. Where did you get this from?

< Can one completely appreciate and enjoy Bach's music *as he intended it* if one does not share his faith? I say, no. You may choose to disagree. I suppose it is like the debates over original instruments and "historical informed performances." >
Not exactly. Pretty clearly, the debate over historical performance practice can generate plenty of vitriolic (occasionally entertaining) words. the debate over the connection of Bach's faith to his music entails two (2) leaps of speculation: what Bach believed, and how he translated that to his music.

< The ongoing efforts on the part of some few >
Excuse me? Who, exactly are you referencing here.

< on this list to paint Bach as a cynical skeptic, a hypocrite, or a man just collecting his pay check, just "tolerating" the beliefs of the day, is an imposition of a modern and post-modern worldview on Bach that simply did not exist for him. >
Nobody on this list said any of this stuff. If they had, how do you know they are wrong?

< Attempting to do so in order to avoid the meaning of his message is understandable. >
Aha! Understandable why? Refusal to believe?

< Such hostility has always greeted the message of sin and salvation that Christian brings. But for the purpose of this list, it is simply counter-productive. >
Sign on the door of my favorite second-hand record shop: "World ends soon! Buy records.'

< Ignore, or disagree with the Christianity that Bach's Church cantatas >
So now we should go Bach and revise and reread every previous reference to 'Bach's music'? Or you you should write more clearly?

< were intended to advance if you wish, but all the predictable >
Predicted by whom? You personally? Some group?

< and tiresome >
Indeed!

< ongoing efforts to deny, denigrate, disparage >
Disintegrate? Four D's are better than three, for emphasis. Triple meter looks like a dance. Polonaise, perhaps?

< and otherwise avoid it seem to me at least to be entirely absurd and utterly pointless. >
It seem to me as well.

PS Could you send a less prolix troll next time? Avoid the Te Deum?

Canyon Rick wrote (March 10, 2007):
[To Ed Myskowski] That Bach's cantatas, passions on one level, can be seen as directed towards a Lutheran congregation is, I think, not invalid. It's just that it's not particularly compelling as THE driving force behind the music. Otherwise, Bach seems reduced to merely preaching-to-the-choir. And I believe he goes well beyond this.

For one thing, I recall reading posts here, and comments in books regarding the uneven quality of Bach's texts. Harnoncourt's set, for example, refers to the text for one cantata (can't remember which one) as "pithy". If one accepts this notion to be even somewhat true, then one could argue that, for Bach, the words weren't particularly important. One reason for this could be strictly egotistical: he didn't want great text competing with his music. Another reason is somewhat similar, but with a much more lofty ideal: Bach knew the quality of the text--good or bad--mattered little. it was his music that would carry the message.

One can debate exactly what the message is, but if "God" or "belief"--to name just two--are parts of this message, then it would require an art as abstract as music in order to represent "God" or "belief".

I don't want to get too carried away here since I've never read Schopenhauer's "World as Will and Representation". But, to a great extent, I think Schopenhauer's grasp of music as the ultimate artform is very applicable to Bach.

Bryan Magee summarizes Schopenhauer and music:
"Music alone among the arts is not representational, and therefore cannot represent platonic forms. It is, according to Schopenhauer, the self-expression of something that cannot be represented at all, namely the noumenon. It is the voice of metaphysical will. That is why it seems to speak to us from the most ultimate depths, deeper by far than those accessible to other arts, while remaining itself something wholly unamenable to language, or to understanding by the intellect.

"...The great composers are the great metaphysicians, penetrating to the centre of things and giving expression to truths about existence in a language our intellects are unable to even comprehend, let alone translate into concepts or words."

I'm certainly not suggesting Bach read Schopenhauer (that would have been a neat trick). But, I am suggesting that, yes, by all means, look at Bach vis-a-vis his Lutheran congregation (however, by the same token include also Bach vis-a-vis Ernesti, the Council, the Consistory...all those who would have also affected his approach to his congregation).

And then look at Bach vis-a-vis the inherent abstractness of music. Here is where the greatness lies. Here is where Bach...becomes Bach.


Ed Myskowski wrote:
<< and otherwise avoid it seem to me at least to be entirely absurd and utterly pointless. >>
< It seem to me as well. >
This is why I go crazy when I write things. I'm always afraid that somewhere I've spelt "the" as "teh", and that such an egregious failing will be used by some (won't mention any names) to undermine an argument or point.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 10, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< And then look at Bach vis-a-vis the inherent abstractness of music. Here is where the greatness lies. Here is where Bach...becomes Bach. >
I suppose I agree that music is abstract, in that it doesn't relate to essentials of life, like morning coffee or evening ale (not to mention some of Brad's more earthy nfunctions). But in another sense, it is the least abstract ofa ll arts. It can be precisely defined by physics, in terms of pitch and meter.

In long ago times, this was known as the harmony of the spher(or someting, close enough).

Richard Mix wrote (March 12, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< Yoel, my post was, and is, referring to the Chuch Cantatas of J.S. Bach. Perhaps you might consider actually reading carefully before responding? >
Welcome back Paul,

Yoel's post is, at least, a response. Perhaps it's worthwhile to consider whether KdF & MO are fundamentaly different from [or to, as my British acquaintances would say] Bach's religious music. Do you find some element missing in them that you, as one to whom (I presume) Christ's death and resurrection are also just plain facts, could try to describe?

Michael Kennedy wrote (March 14, 2007):
[To Paul T. McCain] Thank you. Well done.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 14, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
<<"Did Bach's music have a message? Of course it did. Just read the Cantata texts. That's the message. There is no "well it says this, but obviously Bach really meant only to refer to a symbolic struggle of good and evil." That's simply silly.>>
Since I originated the idea of a struggle between good and evil in the "Bach's message" thread, here is what I actually wrote (message 22701):

"for non-believers, or those with opposing belief systems, I suggest considering that any unpalatable "specifics" of Bach's texts ought to be regarded as referring to the ongoing (eternal?) struggle between `good' and `evil', however one wants to define these concepts - and to listen to Bach's text's in this light, since this is what Bach himself ultimately believed."

By this I did not mean to imply that Bach himself was not a devout Christian (I have no difficulty accepting that he was), but rather that, regardless of personal belief, we all ought to be able, in approaching the cantata texts, to accommodate the Lutheran/Christian beliefs that are reflected in the texts.

All this is rather apposite in light of the text of this week's cantata; interestingly, in 126/1, we have the situation where even some present-day Christian performers want to change the text to make it more palatable!

 

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Last update: żAugust 14, 2007 ż18:24:32